Fifteen years ago I traded a corporate career for life on the river. Close enough to Melbourne to get a quick City fix, plus a great community with excellent coffee and four healthy active boys to keep me entertained, I've never regretted the change.
Published April 2nd 2014
Hit the registers with confidence every time
The Register - so many new ways to confront the customer
I'm just old enough to remember the shops when the cashier sat high above the floor staff and cash was deposited in little canisters that shot around the ceiling on wires like a trapeze. Then supermarkets gained the upper hand and much like boarding a train through turnstiles, customers filed through a bank of conveyor belts as a crisply uniformed young lady, or checkout chick, processed each item and a pimply faced youth crammed tins on top of tomatoes and soggy frozen pies next to cardboard cereal boxes.
These days you need a degree in shopping to master the checkouts, but fear not. Below is a handy guide to the most common checkout styles. Perhaps you have a favourite or spotted an emerging trend to share?
The Pack-Your-Own ALDI Style
When ALDI burst on to the supermarket scene a few years ago, frankly we went into a flat panic at the checkout procedure. The endless conveyor belt, relentlessly sending items to the scanner, faster than anyone could possibly pack, and especially tricky if you forgot to bring appropriate storage for the brilliantly named produce that pelted from the cashier back into the trolley, if you had remembered the coin that released the trolley in the first place.
At first, cash was the only payment option, but we proved difficult to train and ALDI gave up.
This is cheap and cheerful shopping, so stay away on Thursdays, colour code your enviro-bags, use the conveyor belt dividers if you don't want to accidentally go home with a 200 pack of toddler nappies and remember, you are supposed to catch everything in the trolley at the register, THEN pack your envirobags at the specially provided counter. Don't try to omit that step.
At Costco you meet your trolley again after payment has been made
Members-Only, Full Service Costco A new player in the trolley packing game is Costco. This is the full service option. Pick up a trolley in the carpark, fill it up - usually very quickly - and at the register - relax. A bevvy of staff are only too pleased to unpack, scan and repack for you, so please let them. You won't even notice how much you spent.
The Classic Supermarket - inc. 12 Items-or-Less Variations Our old favourite, the classic supermarket, has had a few updates over the decades. Plastic bags on hooks replaced the sturdy paper bags that were fine until they got wet, and now in turn, the enviro-bag cloth option is giving way to the cheap biodegradable bag that you don't have to remember to bring along with you.
The biggest challenge in these stores is the 12 items-or-less procedure. These come in endless variations. There's the single queue with multiple registers, the two registers per queue aisles, the ciggie and phone credit option. Choose a queue and stand your ground.
The New-Age Department Store, or K-Mart Style A brand new addition to the checkout suite is the island. Pioneered by the intensely coloured new-look Kmart, the checkout has taken central position, like the bridge of a starship, totally confusing shoppers who are already blinded by the stunning array of coloured garments that hang from every protuberance. There is little clue as to how to navigate this bold experiment. Shoppers circle warily as assistants fail to make eye contact.
The only way to deal with this checkout is to grit one's teeth and boldly go where no other man is prepared to go. Some islands have a very helpful large blue arrow painted on the floor to indicate the entrance point. Follow it through the chicane of child-height chocolate to the inner sanctum. Good luck.
The Take-a-Number, Bingo Style
The take-a-number rarely announces itself clearly. There is usually one very long counter, with plenty of staff behind and a milling throng of punters. Here is a clue. If there is no obvious queue, yet many shoppers, look for the small, often red or white metal reel with a small paper tongue flapping. Pull the tongue and you will receive a number. Look up. Somewhere on the back wall there will be a large red digital number. It's a bit like bingo. When the number on the wall matches the number in your hand it is your turn, but be quick about it or the next number will flash and your moment will be gone.
The Surf Shop
A variation on the island, the surf shop counter is like a circus ring, with a large opening through which staff can move freely in order to avoid serving anyone. There is just enough counter space to accidentally mix your selection up with the person not being served next to you.
The best approach for this type of checkout is to nab a senior assistant out on the floor on the pretext of locating the item you have already chosen. They will invariably locate the item and hand it to a junior to process and bang, you have them.
This method of sales also applies to computer, gaming and communications outlets.
Best approached with caution, the self-service terminal waits for its next victim
The Self-Service Credit Corral
This is a growing trend in the classic supermarket. A lone sales assistant conducts an orchestra of vocal automatic tellers that are very bad at knowing whether or not you have placed your scanned item in the bag. You will need help. Best to start with fruit & veg and attract the assistant's attention immediately.
The Exit Funnel or $2 Shop Pincer
This method is supposed to discourage shoplifters, who must be in plague proportions in some shopping centres. Perhaps they are attracted by the huge selection of shiny objects or maybe the thrill of trying to get past the eagle-eyed matriarch perched at the exit funnel with a giant bamboo Jimi Hendrix door blind jammed up under a cheap spray jacket. Take plenty of small change, it is impossible to imagine anyone getting away with anything here. Not for less than $2, anyway.
The Boutique is identified by a sparse window display and a charming counter that screams step up and I will help you. There is hot and cold running assistance and you are pretty much guaranteed personal service. The catch here, of course, is that everything is priced accordingly. This is an expensive, but peaceful way to shop as only a few punters can afford to walk in the door. Pray they have nothing in your size.